Voice of the Turtle

Feminist criticism of classical Hollywood often, understandably, divides its attention between hegemonic representations of gender and sexuality and those whose contradictions lead to a complexity worth reading against the grain. Between Category A and Category E, in Cahiers's taxonomy. For instance, there are so many narratives of the "good" girl who's a foil for the "bad" girl that scholars seized upon melodramas or women's pictures that show the pathos of the "good" girl who's gone wrong and reveals the choice as bound up in social dilemmas.

Voice of the Turtle (aka One for the Book, Irving Rapper, WB) exemplifies the prevalence, often forgotten, of something in between. Mousy, neurotic actress Sally (Eleanor Parker) has just broken off a casual affair with a man who was not in love with her. She swears off men, but her vampish, smart-cookie girlfriend Olive (Eve Arden in a very Eve Arden-y role) dumps Bill (Ronald Reagan), a GI she doesn't want to date, on her. Given the hotel shortage, she ends up letting Bill stay in her apartment and both romance and complications ensue. More the Merrier meets It Happened One Night, so to speak.

A dichotomy between Sally and Olive as split sides of the female psyche suggests a gender-regressive ideology at play. After all, Sally's frigidity with Bill and Bill's nearly asexual chivalry with her are shown to be desirable behavior. At the same time, both Olive and Sally have sex out of wedlock, and their difference is painted in their scheming or sincere character. A "wartime exception" to traditional sexual mores brought new represntational challenges and reflects in characters' reactions: her producer explicitly asserts his understanding with Sally's supposed sexual relationship with a GI. In general, Voice of the Turtle was not the only film as frank in its depiction of unwed sexuality, but it did mark a new wartime and postwar forthrightness. Arden's star turn, too, deserves mention as a mitigating factor in the ideology of the script; her charisma changes the tenor of the character.

In the background of all this is the war. I'm wondering if 1947 was a pivot year in the representations of the war, as a society and industry got used to peacetime (for a short while anyway).


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